It is a peculiar kind of accumulation, these lessons, all layered on top of another to create a single image of wise counsel. The achievement is both satisfying and exhilarating, as the work leads to something that very often is hiding in plain sight right in front of me.
The lesson I am just now learning began teaching me in my youth, as most things do, with my parents. After they split, they both fell in love with new people. Their two children, each eight years old, became less important to them as their relationships went on, and by the time they were teenagers, the kids had the freedoms only the neglected enjoy. This had its benefits. I was able to do things most kids would have to wait years to experience. I also had the added benefit of practicing subversive behavior on a regular basis, which would also come in handy later.
Over the course of my life, I noticed that this very early experience attracted and exposed me to a particular type of pain; that of neglect and abandonment. No matter who I chose to partner with, there was always some element of our relationship which involved me putting in my all as the other person slowly withdrew. My marriage was exactly this way. By the time I left the relationship, my wasband was barely doing anything to keep the household going, save the animals and his pot growing operation. When I told him I was leaving, he tried to argue by telling me he would stay up all night cleaning the house, as if that would make up for years of neglecting the relationship.
I also noticed that some of my friendships would labor under the strain of romantic entanglement. That I suffered as I watched friends flirting with my boyfriends or the other way around. As my partner would foster emotionally intimate relationships with other women, even as he sat in bars with me and watched football. This same lesson kept popping up at me, over and over, trying to tell me something that I wasn't getting.
Then, in honor of my dissatisfaction with Women's History Month, I decided to go out dressed as a suffragette and hand out resistance cards to women on the street and ask them, "don't you want more? More than just a month a year? More than the lip service we are paid, in lieu of actual money?"
For the most part it went well, mostly I was preaching to the choir, but for two women who snapped at me that they were treated well. that they were already treated equally.
That evening I ruminated on the subject and realized that I, just like almost every other woman I had come to know, had been socialized into this. Into settling for what they could get, into sacrificing all for romantic love. It is not that I didn't know this on an intellectual level for some time, but this hit me in the heart, and as I looked back on my life with this in my body, I saw how predictable it all was. That just as women are trained to sacrifice for romantic love, men are trained to foster that.
And this is why we don't show up for each other. This is why there are some women out there who do not see that the struggle that certain women face is also their struggle. This is why the women at work would not back me up when I would talk to them about a particular man who was terrorizing the staff. It is why when I exposed a male colleague for theft, the result was that I was accused of being a slut, and interrogated for it. This is why some women will not support the struggle of others. Because they are too deep in their own self-sacrifice to even keep their head above water. They have lost too much in their life-long search and sacrifice for love and belonging that when others do not choose that path, they are scorned.
So I sit with this truth today, in March, in 2019, and I wonder, how do I break myself out of this, how do we, as society, break ourselves out of a pattern that is destructive for women and men alike? How do we start to recognize that we should not have to give up the responsibility the bond of humanity demands in order to feel loved?
I guess the first thing we need to do is wake up to it.
Next, we have to start showing up for each other.